Question Sam Social Sciences

Flashbulb memories

What are flashbulb memories?

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Answer Internal Staff

The concept of the flashbulb memory, an unusually vivid, detailed and enduring memory of a significant event, was originally proposed by Brown & Kulik (1977). They proposed that certain events, often tragic, unexpected and of crucial importance, could lead to highly emotive memories that can last for a very long time. Classic examples include the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and Princess Diana’s death in 1997. Thus, many people can remember details about where they were, what they were doing, how they felt, and even what they were wearing when they first heard about such events. However, Brown & Kulik’s theory has received criticism, particularly in regards to the suggestion that people’s memories of the details of such events actually erode over time and are not as accurate as first thought. Nevertheless, research (e.g. Phelps & Sharot, 2008) does suggest that flashbulb memories are at least more vivid than other types of memories, especially for those who are directly involved in such events.


Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb Memories. Cognition, 5(1), 73–99.
Phelps E.A. & Sharot T. (2008). How (and why) emotion enhances the subjective sense of recollection. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 147–152.